Thursday, October 13, 2022

Quilty Folk Hand Quilting With Perle Cotton Basics--Part #3 An Enthusiast's Guide to Choosing Thread Color

Hand quilting beginners often ask about appropriate thread colors for their projects. How do you know which colors to use or not to use? As always, I defer to the default of doing whatever looks best to YOU. Because that's really the very best barometer for ending up with a finish that you'll love and appreciate. It doesn't matter what I think if you don't end up liking the results! For the purposes of this series though, I will try to explain the 'Quilty Folk' look.

I gain much inspiration by way of viewing antique quilts, but to my surprise, quickly found that hand quilting with only traditional cream thread, became quite boring in terms of 'doing'. My philosophy in choosing thread color is quite simple. I want it to bring joy. It shouldn't overshadow the quilt in any way, but simply provide just another bit of soft, sweet interest. Hand quilting with perle cotton thread can be very addictive if you love chunky thread stitching. Why not make it even better by taking advantage of all the beautiful colors of thread available?

Auditioning thread colors for the Improv. Strips Quilt #1
If I'm going to put in the time and effort of hand quilting, then I unquestionably intend for the stitches to show up. Right? Not compete with the quilt design in any way, but accent and complement. First, I like to to start with the obvious-- thread colors that match the various colors in the quilt. Sometimes it helps to audition them by laying a long thread across a specific area where it will potentially end up. 

Sometimes you won't use all of the colors you've initially chosen. I tend to use between 4-6 thread colors {maybe 8 or more if it's complex} in every quilt. In the quilt above, I never could find a good spot for two of the threads, no matter how pretty they seemed to look in theory. And that's okay. If the quilt doesn't want them, then I definitely won't want to force anything.

Possible thread colors for the 4-Block Tulip Medallion
When I choose a specific thread color for a certain area in a quilt, then you can be sure that I'll use it consistently throughout the whole quilt. If the red thread is meant to outline the triangles in the basket elements of the quilt, then it's going to have to work for every one of those triangles. Rarely do I make individual {custom} choices as to thread, for similar spots. It's just too confusing when it comes to doing the actual stitching. Plus, I love the continuity of the same thread colors popping throughout the quilt. It's a less chaotic look overall and so much more soothing to the eye when it doesn't have to jump around trying to figure out what is going on here or there. If my triangles range from very light to very dark fabrics, then I might, possibly? use two shades of the same color of thread, but only if a single best color remains super elusive. Usually there is something that will end up being a good compromise!

The best way to know if a color of thread is right for the quilt is to just get started stitching. It's pretty obvious within that 17" x 17" frame whether or not a thread color is looking 'flat' or if it is subtlety improving the look of the entire quilt. You just know. And yes, it's annoying to spend an evening basically auditioning thread in your hoop over and over for an hour or so. After it's all figured out though, the rest of the stitching should be a breeze! If a thread is not being good humored about being included in your precious quilt, now is the time to rip it out and try a new color! If it kind of shines and makes you feel happy, then leave it--you've found the perfect spot for that specific thread. 

An interesting thing about thread is how it reflects back depending on where it's placed on the quilt. Some threads will look wonderful in one area of a quilt and fairly bland in another spot. Try a darker, lighter or brighter shade in the other spot. You'll also find that the lightest colors in every color thread almost always look 'white-ish' after being stitched, but much, much softer. Same principle with the darkest colors of thread in each colorway. They will look 'black-ish' yet not nearly as stark. This is a very nuanced step to take, but so much fun when it works out well! Anything that causes even a subtle 'jarring' in my quilts is a big 'no thank you'! In most cases, you can easily find the extreme {as to making the perfect accent stitch} without ever resorting to true white or solid black and it doesn't take any extra time either.
Red perle cotton
Here's a little bit about every color that might possibly be used as thread color in my quilts. I've listed many of the favorites below for those specifically interested in those details.

A lot of quilts welcome a pop of red colored thread. The rosy red ones are absolutely delectable! And don't even get me started on the variegated red Valdani threads....
  • DMC #321--classic red 
  • Valdani #534--variegated tomato red and med. brown
  • DMC #309 and/or All brands--any shade of cherry red 
  • All brands--any shade of coral red
  • Valdani #775--dark rose or turkey red
  • Valdani #O523--variegated dark cherry red
Pink perle cotton
Oh pink threads, you have won my heart. I want ALL the shades. If you have applique flowers in quilts, you'll probably love seeing a bit of pink thread here and there!
  • Finca--any shade of salmon pink. They call them mauve, geranium and cyclamen
  • All brands--any shade of bubblegum pink, from lightest to darkest
  • DMC #754--shell pink
  • Valdani #M14 or Perle Iris brand {no number}--variegated hot pink to lighter pink 
  • Valdani #JP5--variegated light rose
Green perle cotton
Mostly I just want a rich pop of color to accent appliqued leaves etc. Don't even worry about matching, just buy the bold green shades that catch your eye! I do get in trouble buying the lighter sour green shades. They are so intriguing, but in the end, I generally prefer using a tan or cream variegated color instead.
  • All brands--any med. shade of lime green
  • All brands--any shade of grass green
  • All brands--med. to dark shades of emerald green
  • All brands--any shade of teal green, from lightest to darkest
  • Valdani #JP12--variegated light sea green 
  • Valdani #548--variegated dark moss green
Brown, gold, orange and mustard perle cotton
I simply can't keep enough mustard or dark brown thread on hand. Probably just need to start buying in bulk! The darker mustard shade gets used up especially fast. I don't use a lot of medium brown thread unless it is rust or bronze colored or mixed with the darkest of browns. Not a lot of orange, but if it's necessary, I much prefer more mellow shades.
  • Finca #8072--Dark topaz which is a strong, darker mustard color
  • All brands--any shade of mustard
  • All brands--any of the darkest shades of brown
  • Valdani #P11--variegated brown to black
  • Valdani #P12--variegated med brown to dark brown
  • Sue Spargo Eleganz #EZ08--deep purple brown
  • Valdani #67--light rusty orange
  • Finca #1485--cantaloupe
  • Valdani #JP7--light orange to gold
Purple perle cotton

I use a lots and lots of violet. So much prettier than true purple! The lightest and darkest colors get used up really fast.
  • Valdani #P8--variegated violet rose
  • Valdani #P10--antique violet
  • Valdani #PT13--dark violet with hints of blue {my absolute fave, swoon!}
  • All brands--any shades of lavender
  • Valdani #M2--variegated rose to dark violet
  • All brands--any shade of violet
Black and gray perle cotton
Just plan on keeping some black thread on hand. It's hard to buy the black and brown shades when you love color as much as I do, but there's some beautiful perle cotton in every color! I much, much prefer the softer blacks than the stark black threads that are so much easier to find.
  • Valdani #H211--variegated blue black
  • Valdani #O511--dark charcoal
  • Valdani #O548--variegated black to khaki
  • Valdani #O501--variegated black to dark brown
  • All brands--any shade of gray from lightest to darkest
  • Valdani #O538--variegated gray to cream

Blue perle cotton
I don't even know how people quilt without blue thread, especially turquoise. The color I probably use the least is royal blue. All the lighter variegated blues are just a fun pick when white or cream refuses to act happy in a quilt. 
  • All brands--any shade of turquoise. I use every single shade over and over again.
  • All brands--lightest of blues
  • DMC #823--classic dark navy
  • Valdani #O515--deep blue
  • All brands--any shade of navy
  • All brands--any shade of Caribbean blue

Light neutral perle cotton
I didn't realize how decimated my stock of cream, light tan and soft gold threads was! The last couple years I've been plowing through the thread and rarely buying new. Though I use colored thread every chance I get, invariably there's a spot in many quilts where a light neutral is the only thing that looks right. I admit to completely crushing on the variegated threads and tend to ignore the solid cream and tan threads.
  • Any brand--soft white
  • Valdani #P4--aged white
  • Valdani #11--soft gold
  • Valdani #JP4--variegated ivory, lightest tan and light gray
  • Valdani #M14--variegated soft white to light cream
  • Valdani #514--variegated cream to soft gold
  • Valdani #O576--variegated gold, yellow, tan
Thread color should be a delicious little addition to the quilt, an extra detail that helps to bring the quilt up to the next level. That being said, if you run out of a certain color of thread, go ahead and substitute the next closest thing you have available. Only the pickiest of observers will ever even notice the difference!

When in doubt, use mustard. Not working? How about a  a dark brown color of thread, a soft white, or perhaps a cream to gold variegated thread? These specific shades tend to transcend the complexity of any quilt and give it a soft, ageless quality. If nothing seems to be working, try colors that aren't even in the quilt. Yes, really. Once in awhile, the answer is the absolute unexpected.

You'll notice that I include a lot of variegated threads in the lists of favorite colors. Don't be scared of them! They work really hard in areas of echo quilting and allover stitching. Sometimes you just want certain areas to not 'pop' quite as much as other areas, but they still need something that won't be completely lost to the eye. Variegated threads can also give the stitching a wonderful sense of surprise as they constantly change in color, intensifying and/or fading away. 

While I adore the Kantha style of stitching, for the most part I want the stitching to be an added layer. I'd rather people see the quilt first, then zero in on little details that make up the whole. Using Perle Cotton #8 or #12 thread is a absolutely a great way to quickly intensify the texture in a quilt. Using good, strong and/or soft colored threads in all the appropriate places, makes that texture extra sweet. It adds charms and helps level up the cozy factor. As you gain experience in hand quilting with perle cotton, it will be easier and easier to recognize the specific colors and shades of thread that make you happy. 

Part #4, 'Quilting Design and The Cozy Look' will hopefully be ready in a couple days and then we can get back to regular posting!


  1. Great post Audrey! I love the colors and your tips. Thank you.

  2. more and more over the last years I too have been using more than one color of thread for quilting and thicker thread too. I find that yes if I am hand quilting I want the stitches to show - from what I hear from machine quilters they don't want their stitches to show all that much - what a difference in style!

  3. I didn't realize you used so many different shades of thread. I'm pretty boring compared to you - ha! I'm itching to try all kinds of new things because of this post.

  4. Yes am very keen to explore more now too, thanks of all the tips. I love how you may use several colours, and use many shades of the one colour too, such a good way to create extra interest.

  5. Wish I had some big stitch hand quilting advice like yours back when I first started out!! How generous of you to take the time to write these posts for newbies. Great advice and tips! I love variegated threads too.

  6. Just scrolled through right now Audrey, drooling over the luscious colour display of the Perle cottons, saving the reading until my morning cup of tea tomorrow.

  7. I have enjoyed your posts about quilting. I mainly quilt with Yli or similar treads but I have quilted with a thicker treads in a few quilts. I love the texture quilting gives and do not quilt to intense, since I like a soft finish.


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